Tom Brady sat, his head down, on the New England bench, the picture of dejection. It was the second quarter, and he had just thrown a bad idea of a pass that the Falcons’ Robert Alford had returned 82 yards for a touchdown.
Brady looked human, reduced, lesser. It was an odd sight. Jarring. This wasn’t Y.A. Tittle on his knees, blood streaming down his face with the last light of his career fading away, but you couldn’t help wondering if it was somewhere in the vicinity.
The answer, long and short and in between, is no.
In the course of one night, Brady went from battered to buoyant, from old to young. He went from feeling like a zero to throwing for 466 yards, and the Patriots overcame a 21-0 deficit to win Super Bowl LI 34-28 in overtime.
Oh, to be 39 years old again.
When it was over, Brady squatted on the grass at NRG Stadium in Houston, overcome with the moment, the picture of victory. If you’re counting at home, that’s five Super Bowls for New England’s quarterback.
“We all brought each other back,’’ Brady said. “We never felt out of it.’’
A phenomenal catch by Julian Edelman of a tipped pass with three Falcons defenders around him and a little more than two minutes left in the game will go down as one of the best receptions in Super Bowl history. After all the physical abuse Brady took Sunday, he deserved a crazy, beautiful break.
It was the key play of a touchdown drive that brought New England to within 28-26 with 57 seconds left in the game. The two-point conversion was successful, because this is Brady and these are the Patriots. Tie ballgame.
In overtime, New England wasted no time disposing of the Falcons, who had spent the first half of the game making the Patriots look old and out of touch. The game ended with James White finding a way into the end zone on a two-yard run. The Falcons never got a chance to answer. The Patriots had scored 31 unanswered points.
Brady is 39, which is ancient by NFL standards but not so old by his standards. He has dismissed conventional wisdom by playing so well for so long, but if there’s one thing that can speed up the aging process, it’s a fast, aggressive defense. And, man, do the Falcons have that. And, man, did that defense make Brady look like an old man in that first half. It knocked him down over and over again, threw him around like a laundry bag and pretty much seemed to have no regard for the popular opinion that he’s the best quarterback of all time.
Bears fans would have been forgiven for freaking out at that point. It was obvious to anyone with two working eyes that the Falcons had a huge hand in making Brady look average. But what if coach Bill Belichick looked at his quarterback and saw age at work? Was there a chance the shrewd, cold-hearted coach might decide his future is better off with 25-year-old Jimmy Garoppolo under center than with the guy who helped him win four Super Bowls?
That’s the same Garoppolo on whom the Bears reportedly have cast their lonely eyes. At least one report has the team prepared to go all-out in its pursuit of the former Rolling Meadows High School and Eastern Illinois star. Wouldn’t it be so like the Bears if their No. 1 choice to replace Jay Cutler were suddenly taken off the market?
Brady came back to dismiss any such silly thoughts. It was if he flipped a switch. He ended up completing 43 of 62 passes. Crazy.
The Patriots’ first touchdown didn’t come until there were about two minutes left in the third quarter — and then they missed the extra point. That’s how it was. Until it wasn’t, thanks to Brady.
He sat out the first four games of the season because of the Deflategate “scandal.’’ There had to be a certain amount of sweet revenge for the quarterback in coming back to win this Super Bowl. He and commissioner Roger Goodell, his nemesis throughout the controversy, shook hands after the game. They seemed to be saying nice things to each other. I wonder what they were really thinking.
Goodell got booed throughout the trophy presentation. The Patriots had won again.
“This is, unequivocally, the sweetest [title],’’ owner Robert Kraft said.
Who could argue otherwise?
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